we're magan + estelle -- two girls who live miles apart, but connect daily over our love for books. we share thoughtful + honest reviews of the books we read, but enjoy talking about our crazy lives and other interests, too (style! diy! zac efron!). join us!
Yesterday was the first day of fall and I actually had to bring a jacket for my early morning walk to the subway. Two weeks ago, I thought sweating through my dresses was going to be a constant in my life because whoa, I did that a lot this summer. (Gross but true.) Needless to say, I’m so looking forward to cozy sweaters, hot lattes, and breaking in a new pair of boots.
Despite the heat, it was a really good – somewhat odd? – summer. My husband obsessed with studying for the bar (as he should have been). I visited a friend in her Gilmore Girls-esque Massachusetts town, got to hang out with M in Texas(!!), and returned to Savannah for a trip with no set alarms and a lot more sweating because, oh right, it was 110 degrees. (Not kidding.) There were some new bars to sample with our trusty beer passport, and, like I had wanted to, gave away/sold/donated at least fifty books that have been cluttering my apartment. I worked out almost every day (thanks to Cassie for keeping me on track!) and cooked with zucchini so much. Lots of fun, sun, spirits, and organizing!
And, of course, reading. I meant to have this post ready for the actual first day of autumn but as you know, the Muppets take precedent in my household. (Did you watch? I really, really enjoyed it and can’t wait for more!) I’m going to share 15 of my top reads from over the summer, but first, a few stats…
From Memorial Day (May 26) until the last full day of summer (September 22), I read 59 books. (Eee!)
14 of 59 were books I owned or were gifted
8 of 59 were borrowed from the library
12 of 59 were published before 2014.
12 of 59 were romance novels.
I only bought 4 physical books the entire summer. (Three of these were in the last week.)
I sound like a broken record but because of tech issues we are a little late this month with the Dive Into Diversity challenge. Oops. But here we are and just a few months left in the year! I can’t believe it. I’ve decided to go in a whole new direction with today’s check-in post because I was inspired (motivated? annoyed?) by a recent read of mine that falls in the romance category.
I read quite a bit of romance and I’ll sadly admit that the number of diverse characters I’ve come across is slim. (See: a lesbian/WOC supporting character in Victoria Dahl’s Flirting with Disaster and Liberty in Lisa Kleypas’ Sugar Daddy who is half Mexican.) This is why I was so excited when I found out an Asian American woman would be taking centerstage in the next volume of a series I’ve been reading. My expectations didn’t go beyond: it’s nice to know there’s more ethnicity reflected in this town than I imagined. But my excitement quickly turned to discomfort when I realized there was absolutely no nuance to her character. She was tiny and had black hair. She worked as a manicurist and then a nurse. She was over-protective of her son, and so proud she didn’t want to let anyone into her business. It was like the author had taken a list of Asian stereotypes and manifested a one-dimensional character with zero spark. She was so connected to her culture yet never questioned how her and her son were the only non-whites living in their town? The introduction of this character — through welcomed with open arms by everyone — made it glaringly obvious to this reader just how depthless this population was.
I was disappointed.
Readers are smart, and a seasoned one is going to be able to tell when the extra legwork has taken place, especially when it means researching a culture enough that it doesn’t pop off the page like a stereotype but instead is a respectful representation. Case in point: Not an ethnicity example but this weekend I read Katherine Locke’s Finding Center and stopped in the middle (for just a second), turned to my husband and said, you could totally tell how much research this author did on people with disabilities and the details of how a prosthetic would work for a dancer.
“Seeing someone who looks like you reflected in the pages of a book as a fully rendered, three-dimensional character can be powerful and transformational,” said Bobbi Dumas in this NPR blog post from 2014.
YES. YES. YES.
For more than the year I’ve been doing this challenge (and probably since the birth of Rather Be Reading), I’ve worked to make sure my reading is full of eclectic characters from all types of backgrounds. In addition to that, I try to seek out authors who are underrepresented. Awareness comes at different times for everyone but I think in the past few weeks and with the annoyance of the above reading adventure, I’ve undoubtably committed myself to seeking out books in this genre that smartly put me in touch with main characters – and authors – from all walks of life.
Hi, strangers! After a series of unfortunate events (i.e. tech issues), I’m back with a fun post I’ve been scheming about for a few months. Except I had no idea it would be SO hard. (Thanks to everyone who answered this tweet yesterday afternoon.) Today, we’re talking Muppets. Unless you haven’t watched ABC or ESPN lately or follow my Twitter feed, you might have NO idea that the Muppets are debuting a brand new TV show TOMORROW. Guess what? The Muppets are debuting a brand new show tomorrow. I cannot believe it. In the past five years — my Muppet love reignited — I was just happy to get a movie every few years and now every week there is going to be something new to enjoy. It’s a dream come true.
Young adult books and the Muppets have a lot in common. If you are an adult that likes either, the wrong people probably give you a side-eye and wonder why someone so seemingly intelligent and wonderful loves something so childlike. My answer: shush. Young adult books are written well and make me happy. And unlike this article states, the Muppets were actually created FOR adults. But because of Sesame Street, Jim Henson had to constantly remind people this was the case. I would probably bet it’s one of the biggest misconceptions of this franchise. Anyway…
Today I’m pairing the four main Muppets with young adult books I hope you’ll check out, and who knows — maybe the Muppets will find some downtime in between filming new episodes to pick up their chosen title too.
Timing couldn’t be more impeccable for this Pub Date focused on CAREERS and HOBBIES. I just celebrated one year at my job working in publicity at an academic press. It probably goes without saying that book blogging inspired my career change in ways. It’s been challenging year full of new experiences and it’s nice and refreshing and all sorts of wonderful to feel proud of the work I’m churning out. (Though, if we could get more hours in the day, I’d be thrilled.)
Today’s beer pick is especially fitting: Two Roads Honeyspot Road IPA. The name is all about journey and it’s a smooth beer you can’t help but enjoy after a busy day at the office. For someone who never used to like IPAs, I’m quite a fan these days but this particular brew is great for someone just easing into hoppier beers. It’s not overwhelming at all.
And the book? Such a tough one but I’m going to go with Girl Before a Mirror by the incredible Liza Palmer. I read it in the early spring, and still believe everyone (especially the ladies) need to get their hands on this book. What do you do when you are feeling powerless and unhappy? When do you get to a point where you trust your gut and move forward to better yourself? When do your own needs and desires take centerstage over others because you realize there’s no way you can be of help to them without helping yourself first? Career, friendship, romance, family — all of life’s fun complications are thrown into this thoughtful, amazing book that truly feels like it could be an Estelle bible.
Here’s to a fantastic weekend, silly IT blog issues disappearing, and going after what we want.
Here’s what I remember about my last night at home before I left for college: I was one of the last of my friends to go away. I watched Donnie Darko with my then-boyfriend. Afterwards he gave me a gift: a copy of my favorite movie so I could watch it when I was at school (I only had a VHS copy up until that point) and a ceramic turtle he had had forever to remind me of him (I still have the turtle actually). I went to bed and the next morning, my parents and I woke up at the crack of dawn to leave for my new adventure. It’s impossible to read Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between without remembering the very odd summer I had at home just before college. There wasn’t a ton of time between graduation and actually packing up for school, but in those three months I managed to work a lot at my part-time jobs at CVS and The Disney Store, get a new boyfriend, and fill up our family van with all the crap I needed for school. I went to the beach with my best friend, had swim parties with my high school pals, and attended (what felt like) a million graduation parties.
I was sad and I was nervous about leaving but I also felt ready. My parents and I needed some space and after going to school in the same town for my whole life, I was ready to go somewhere where no one knew me even if this meant leaving my new boyfriend behind. Unlike Claire and Aiden, we didn’t have two years under our belt and reading Jen Smith’s new novel made me realize we had never discussed even breaking up our relationship. There was so much drama tangled up in us getting together in the first place, and ending everything before it even really started was never an option. Long distance was just going to be a thing we did. So as much as Hello, Goodbye is the perfect read for teenagers in that shaky place right now — when you have no idea what decision is right or wrong and have to make one anyway — I felt just as affected as an adult, 10 years since my freshman year, who has already experienced an endgame to many of Claire’s concerns. I understood Claire’s back and forth about whether or not to stay with Aiden once they went away to different schools, and her legit fear of being so distracted with the past she wouldn’t embrace her present. How the summer she envisioned hanging out with her best friends until they were physically unable to any longer didn’t quite happen that way.
Confession: I was totally that girl Claire didn’t want to be. I’d like to think that if my then-boyfriend would have decided to let go of his old girlfriend maybe I would have been less of an anxious, insane freshman who was more wrapped up with the ex-girlfriend’s suspicious away messages and the glaring fact that this guy and I were not solid enough to deal with a presence such as hers. In the middle of all that, a guy I graduated with and worked with died the second month I was at school. I didn’t even realize until years later how withdrawn I was during that first year. Two of the girls in my suite are still close friends, and now we can certainly look back and laugh about that crazy first year but whoa, they were concerned. I was 100 miles away from home, stranded without a car with a boyfriend who barely had a cell phone, and a wild imagination. (You would have been too; this ex was terrifying.)
All Claire wanted to do was save herself some grief by ending things with Aiden. She didn’t want to wonder about what he was doing or who he was meeting. She didn’t want to stop herself from meeting and doing too. Strangely, I felt proud of her. Because an itty bitty part of me wonders what would have happened if I had explored ALL the options instead of going with the one I wanted the most. Would I have spent less time on the internet? Smiled and socialized more? Spent less time looking up schools to transfer to in the middle of the school year?
Maybe. That’s the thing. As much as we plan and hope, life has the tendency to have a mind of its own. So while I was impressed with Claire’s focus to reach a cut and dry solution to the future of her and Aiden’s relationship, I also wanted to shake her and just tell her to enjoy that last night because if that evening was any indication, there were plenty of surprises in store for her on this new adventure and sometimes you just have to let them happen.
Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith captures the extreme doubt and excitement associated with new adventures and new beginnings in an agonizingly realistic and bittersweet way. After two years together, can Claire and Aiden continue their relationship when so many factors are left unknown as they leave for college? Will their friendships with best friends Stella and Scotty survive distance? In a rare look at the night before their time at home and in high school ends for good, Smith delivers an emotional ride peppered with quirky twists and turns and questions of independence and dependability. Plus a lot of tears from this reader. It’ll make you reflect, wonder, and look around and realize: sometimes you just have to move with change and have a little faith.
Did you know August was Romance Awareness Month? Me neither. (Just made it!) I found out when I was doing some research for work, but hey, it is and here we are. Three romance recommendations that eased me back into work after vacation, accompanied me on a beer crawl, and kept me company on a “me night” (along with this beer). I always will equate romance novels with relaxation and a whole lot of fun. Thanks to these for providing that! Hope you find something to add to your list today.
Fighting for Keeps by Jennifer Snow (Harlequin Heartwarming/ April 25, 2015): My first romance novel about a fighter, and I really liked it. Noah might fight for a living but he’s also focused on making sure young kids in his neighborhood have every opportunity to get a great education and support they might be missing. In the same town is Lindsay, a woman he’s been after forever. No amount of training has prepared him for her cold shoulder but when tragedy strikes and her life changes a ton, Noah is there for her. A sweet story about a woman who must finally realize she’s worth it and capable of everything, and a man who learns it’s okay to let his defenses down with the right person.
Thrill Me by Susan Mallery (Harlequin HQN/July 28, 2015) I’ve read my fair share of Susan Mallery books, and I can say, hands down, this one is at the top of my list. Second chance love? Give me more of this. Maya is unexpectedly reunited with the only man she’s ever been in love with for a work project. Her and Del never exactly broke up either; she ran away from him and never looked back. On the surface, both seem at ease working on a marketing campaign for Fool’s Gold but, in reality, Maya’s wondering if she should bring up the past and Del is starting to remember how great everything felt when she was around. Not only was this book about bringing two people together again, but Maya is struggling with that next step in her life. Does she want to work in Fool’s Gold forever or is there more for her out there? I was utterly delighted by these two, happy to be back in the generous and sweet town of Fool’s Gold, and gobbled this book in less than a day.
A New Hope by Robyn Carr (Harlequin HQN/June 30, 2015): Every since I read ONE WISH, I was anxious to get to Ginger’s story. She’s a divorced young woman who lost her young child to SIDS and has now relocated to Thunder Point, working in an adorable flower shop. Robyn Carr overlaps Ginger’s story while continuing Grace’s from One Wish and I was glad for that. Grace’s story was far from over, and her friendship was so important to Ginger’s new lease on life. In this book, two people have to come to terms with their past and decide if they are ready to jump into a new adventure together. Matt makes a terrible first impression with Ginger but throughout A NEW HOPE, he certainly makes up for it. They grow to be close friends and take their next steps very slowly. I liked getting to know them a lot, enjoyed meeting a new character who will take centerstage in WILDEST DREAMS, and, once again, feeling charmed all over again by the Thunder Point citizens.
A nitpicky sidenote: I wish the ladies were featured on the covers of THUNDER POINT novels. I have no idea whose dog that is!